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Hamilton church opens homes to refugees

With most shelters at capacity, exorbitant housing prices and an increase in negative perceptions of refugees, the lack of proper housing for refugee claimants has become a crisis.

Started in 2018, Open Homes Hamilton (OHH) is a multi-church network supporting refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality. Local Christians with extra space in their houses (called “Hosts”) bring in refugee claimants (called “Guests”) in need of that space, while volunteer “Companions” offer friendship and practical help as refugee claimants adapt to their new home. Through this, OHH not only provides appropriate housing but they also break down barriers between refugee claimants and the people of Hamilton and beyond.

“The refugee crisis desperately needs churches to show up in ways that further hope, healing and reconciliation in the world,” Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan, Open Homes Hamilton’s team leader, shared. One church that showed up was New Hope, a Hamilton CRC church plant.

In order to support the work of OHH, New Hope made an application to NewGround, a program of Diaconal Ministries Canada, for a 3-year partnership. Grant money was used for leadership training of team members and volunteers, as well as practical support for refugees such as bus fare, grocery cards and rides to refugee hearings.

New Hope already had a number of church members involved in advocating for refugees, or in providing affordable housing. “This unique ministry to refugees fit perfectly with our church and has provided even more opportunities to love our newcomer neighbours here in Hamilton,” shared New Hope’s Pastor of Mission & Discipleship, Steve Dykstra.

Another important component of a NewGround partnership is real-time coaching, provided by the program’s director, Karla Winham. Partners are asked to complete a Ministry Action Plan and attend Coaching Conversations with Winham.

“I basically see myself as an encourager, pointing out successes they might not notice, an accountability partner, keeping them on track with their ministry plan, and a ‘gopher,’ finding information and connections to help them meet their goals,” shared Winham.

Above all, Winham emphasized, NewGround aims to help ministries thrive and remain sustainable, therefore the coaching is an integral part of the partnership.

“This past January and February were a bit overwhelming with a big influx of refugee claimants and shelters struggling with the pandemic,” recalls Steenwyk-Rowaan, “yet we were able to welcome a Colombian family of four; women from Chad, Kenya and Nigeria; and partner with Micah House to welcome another Colombian family. Our NewGround partnership helped us do this!”

NewGround is primarily funded through an annual offering taken by Christian Reformed Churches across Canada the first Sunday of May. Thanks to generous donors, NewGround can help even more churches pursue exciting new ministries like New Hope has! To donate, visit our website.

Author

  • Erin Knight

    Communications Coordinator for Diaconal Ministries Canada

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